Soul Settlers

Overcoming, in a bold yet becoming way…

Just when you were gaining ground they arrived. You know who “they” are. They are the ones who grumble and gripe. They have a dozen reasons for why something won’t work or can’t be done. You dread seeing them coming, despise hearing their droning, and are deflated when they finally move on to frustrate someone else. This type of folks has always been around. A textbook example of these cranky critics and how to overcome them is found in the Book of Nehemiah.

 

The theme of the book is Nehemiah’s work to rebuild Jerusalem’s walls. The book is brief, but has a bounty of lessons about life, faith, work, attitudes, and leadership. It is one of the most practical and applicable books in the Bible.

 

In the first two chapters we see how Nehemiah’s work and service to God began. Nehemiah had heard that Jerusalem was in great disrepair. He responded to this news by mourning for days. He then fasted, prayed, and asked God to clear the path for him to go and rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. Soon after, while doing his ho-hum job of being the cupbearer for King Artaxerxes, Nehemiah had the opportunity to gain the king’s approval to go and rebuild the walls. As a further answer to Nehemiah’s prayer King Artaxerxes even provided a letter of protection as well as the supplies for the work! A lesson here is that while you are faithful in your mundane, day-to-day role be sure to watch for God to do something astonishing. The “small” role that Nehemiah had worked in for years became the springboard for a big assignment.

 
As soon as God had granted Nehemiah initial, and visible, success … trouble began. Enter the professional troublemakers: Sanballat (wasn’t that the name of an 80’s pop band?) and Tobiah (the translation of that Aramaic name is “kid who never got picked for dodgeball because of his dopey name). Those two didn’t want Jerusalem restored or for Nehemiah to prosper. So they began expressing themselves as a means of depressing others. Nehemiah chapter two concludes with this passage:

 

“Then I (Nehemiah) said to them, “You see the trouble we are in, how Jerusalem lies in ruins with its gates burned. Come, let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer suffer derision.” 18 And I told them of the hand of my God that had been upon me for good, and also of the words that the king had spoken to me. And they said, “Let us rise up and build.” So they strengthened their hands for the good work. 19 But when Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite servant and Geshem the Arab heard of it, they jeered at us and despised us and said, “What is this thing that you are doing? Are you rebelling against the king?” 20 Then I replied to them, “The God of heaven will make us prosper, and we his servants will arise and build, but you have no portion or right or claim in Jerusalem.” Nehemiah 2:17-20

 

Some quick take-home, or take-to-work, application points for us:

  • Nehemiah inspired those that he would led. He encouraged them, told them what they should do, and why they should do it. Good leaders share the “why” along with the “what, and in the process lift others up rather than tearing them down.
  • At the first sign of success the nay-sayers unleashed a barrage of finger-pointing and fault-finding. Those remain the tools of the trade used by cynics today. Learning to spot these will aid you in setting your feet and standing up to scoffers. It is worth considering that sometimes the loudest and most critical doubter you hear resides within you. Recognize that self-doubt — especially if it’s constant and contrarian — is the work of your sin nature or the enemy; it’s not from God. God desires us to keep moving ahead despite doubters, both external and internal ones.
  • Nehemiah overcame the scoffers in a becoming yet bold manner: God is with us, we will keep working, and this is none of your business. A sanctified smackdown (check out the Archives for the June 5 post Words of Grace, and Granite for more on santified smart-aleckry). It’s a rousing response for your critics: God’s in it and keep your nose out of it.

 

As you go about your life and work please remember Nehemiah’s example of faithfulness and watchfulness while his work began and his strength and savvy ┬áthat kept the work going. Take some time this week and walk through the Book of Nehemiah. God will use it to instruct and inspire you. He might even show you how His great work flows through your daily grind…

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Soul Settlers

Truth for those trying times…

As you stride through the fields of life you move through patches of briars and brambles, those patches usually feature dark clouds and cold winds as well. Each of us have gone through these times. Each of us will go through more of them. A memory of such a tough time may have flashed upon your mind’s High-Def screen. As those memories are awakened it is a fine opportunity to recall how God brought you through challenging seasons of life. Enter Romans 15:4:

 

“For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”

 

As I read that passage this morning seeds of thought sprouted. As the thoughts rooted, then grew, I took to pen and paper. Here are some of the principles that bloomed:

  • First, God’s Word is given to for us instruction. Obvious from the text, I know, but the instruction of God’s word is the beginning of the construction of our hope. Or, to put it another way, God’s instruction to us is the framework for our hope in Him.
  • Second, for us to continue climbing steep slopes in life — often rain-soaked and slippery, no less — we must decide to persevere. Romans 15:4 points out the practice of pressing on as a link to hope. During trying times God demonstrates His graciousness to us and we should demonstrate our grittiness to Him. Endurance is faith in continued action.
  • Third, God’s Word is given to us for encouragement. Again, obvious from the passage, but, what is not obvious is the connection of the hope that we receive from the Scriptures to our means of receiving it. Here it is: God’s Word instructs us, our endurance propels us, and His Word then encourages us. At this point it would be easy, and self-gratifying, to think that our endurance is the link between the instruction given and hope gained in God’s Word. It’s not. Our endurance is necessary, but not primary. The question raising its hand and squirming in its seat begging to be answered is this, “Where does the endurance come from?” Just as instruction and hope come from God, our endurance comes from Him as well. Scripture shows us that God is the source of our endurance. It’s not us. It never is.

 

“May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you…”Romans 15:5

 

Colossians 1:11 steps in as a reminder as well:

“May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy…”

 

These two verses reveal that our ability to endure comes from strength that God provides. The real lesson here, and true hope, is that it’s all by God’s grace.

Through His grace:

  • His Word instructs us.
  • His Word delivers hope to us.
  • His Spirit grants strength to us, so that we are able to endure.

 
It’s His grace top to bottom, front to back, and on all sides.

 

When you find yourself struggling uphill, cold and wet, remember that His grace in Christ calls to us from His Word. Take a moment, rest under a hillside oak for shelter, and open His Word. He will teach you, strengthen you, and bring hope to you. Then, you will find yourself warm, dry, and ready to climb again. Go climb. Climb with hope. Climb in grace…

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